Equal Pay Day is an annual faux holiday meant to shed light on the differences in earnings between men and women and other measures of parity between the sexes.

In 2023, Equal Pay Day falls on March 14. This marks the number of months into the year that women must work in order to earn the same amount as men.

Because women earn less than men, activists assume it’s due to sex discrimination. But that is misleading and largely, false. 

Let’s debunk some common myths about the pay gap:

  1. Myth: Women earn a lot less than men. Truth: The pay gap is actually really small. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women’s average weekly earnings in full-time jobs were 83.1% of those for men in 2021. Some translate that as women earning 83 cents of every dollar men earn. 

    This raw wage gap is misinterpreted to suggest widespread wage discrimination against women, but the wage gap is largely driven by the choices that women and men make. As the BLS explains, these raw numbers do not control for factors that significantly impact a worker’s pay including the number of hours worked, education, job title, industry, job skills, and specialization. When controlling for those factors, the pay gap shrinks to a few cents. 
  1. Myth: All women face the same pay gap. Truth: The pay gap is largely non-existent for young women but grows over time due to women’s choices about family. There’s almost no pay gap for single childless women, but the wage gap begins to increase around age 25, likely due to choices about family roles. 

    Men work more hours than women and are more likely to work full-time than women. Full-time men work 8.4 hours per day on average compared to 7.8 hours for women. Additionally, 75% of men work full-time compared to just 65% of women.
  1. Myth: The pay gap is getting worse. Truth: Equal Pay Day is getting earlier and earlier because the pay gap is shrinking. Just look at the trend:
    March 14 in 2023
    March 15 in 2022
    March 24 in 2021
    March 31 in 2020
    April 2 in 2019
    April 10 in 2018
    April 7 in 2017 
    April 12 in 2016
    April 14 in 2015
  1. Myth: We need legislation to close the pay gap. Truth: Pay discrimination is already outlawed. Federal lawmakers have put forward the Paycheck Fairness Act as the solution to close the gender pay gap. This bill does not outlaw sex-based discrimination, because sex-based wage discrimination is already illegal. Women’s rights to earn equal pay for equal work are protected by the Equal Pay Act (1963) and the Civil Rights Act (1964). 

    Instead, the PFA would require employers to prove they do not pay men and women differently, making it less likely they would be willing to negotiate flexibility and other benefits that a female employee may want. In addition, it would increase legal exposure for employers.
  1. Myth: Sex discrimination no longer exists. Truth: Women still experience instances of sex discrimination. It’s untrue to suggest that there’s widespread discrimination as evidenced by the pay gap. It’s also false to pretend that instances of discrimination against women don’t exist. There are cases of real sex discrimination and the EEOC works to prosecute those offenders every day.

We need a dose of truth to counteract the false narratives that are pervasive in society about women’s progress.

The pay gap that exists is very small and almost entirely due to the choices that women get to make such as what industry to enter, how many hours to work, which occupations and job titles offer more flexibility, and how much time to take out of the workforce.

In addition, women are gaining flexibility and financial security by not working for an employer at all, but choosing to be independent contractors.

This is economy is creating new, exciting, and desirable opportunities for women, policymakers should be careful not to undermine that with ill-advised policies.